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Three Things We Learned From Conference USA — Week 9

Jeff Traylor agrees to stay in the Alamo City for another decade, changes appear on the horizon for FIU and the C-USA East race heats up.

NCAA Football: Texas-San Antonio at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The conference realignment news off the field carried over from week eight as Southern Miss, Old Dominion and Marshall announced that they would depart Conference USA for the Sun Belt Conference. The moves leave C-USA with five members (Lousiana Tech, FIU, UTEP, Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky). While the future of the league and it’s members remain a topic of conversation, the focus of this column will shift back to the news and occurrences regarding the teams play this season.

During week nine’s six-game slate, three contests came down to one score or less and two others helped crowd an already congested East division race and Old Dominion found its first conference win since 2018 as they defeated Lousiana Tech at home. Let’s take a look at the weekend in C-USA.

The Future Is Bright In San Antonio

While UTSA had the week off, arguably the biggest news of their season was made official late Sunday afternoon as head coach Jeff Traylor agreed to a historic 10-year extension, keeping Traylor in the Alamo City through 2031. In an earlier edition of this column, the work of Roadrunners’ Athletic Director Lisa Campos was profiled — and now she, along with Traylor are locked in for the foreseeable future in San Antonio. While UTSA will depart for the American, this move comes at an especially crucial time for the Roadrunners on the field in 2021.

Traylor’s team currently sits as the number 16 team in the nation and has a realistic chance at ending the regular season undefeated — and potentially taking a New Year’s Six bowl game, should Cincinnati make the College Football Playoff and a secondary invitation is extended. Getting this extension announced eliminates the distraction of the Texas Tech opening that Traylor had been linked to, along with the announcement that Texas Christian has relieved Gary Patterson of his duties effective immediately.

Conference USA East’s Crowded Field

After nine weeks of play, C-USA East is very much up for grabs. The preseason projections from conference media have held true to this point as Marshall leads the division following their 38-0 rout of FIU, while FAU, Western Kentucky, Charlotte and Middle Tennessee round out the top-five spots in order. What’s noteworthy each of the five teams are within one game of each other. What’s also known is each of these teams will have a chance to control their own destiny down the stretch. Florida Atlantic takes on Marshall at home and Western Kentucky welcomes Middle Tennessee for the annual 100 Miles of Hate rivalry game this weekend. Two weeks from now, FAU heads to Bowling Green to play the Tops and Marshall visits the Queen City to play Charlotte. The final weekend of play has MTSU in Boca to play the Owls and Western Kentucky in Huntington facing the Herd.

Undoubtedly, FAU and Marshall were expected to be here, by virtue of being the most talented teams in the division. Bailey Zappe’s right arm has brought Western Kentucky within striking distance and with a win over FAU at home, the Tops have a real chance of winning the division. MTSU and Charlotte are still question marks, especially with both teams having quarterback injury issues.

Major Changes Appear on the Horizon for FIU

After being out of college football for seven years, Butch Davis was hired by FIU’s Director of Sports and Entertainment, Pete Garcia, in 2017 with a resume that gave hope to Panther fans that change was imminent. Davis laid the groundwork for the 2001 Miami Hurricanes during his six-year stint as head coach, then led the Cleveland Browns to a playoff appearance in 2002. Davis went on to resurrect North Carolina, leading the Tar Heels to three bowl games in four seasons after the program had gone 27-45 in the six seasons prior. Davis’ reputation as a program builder was cemented when Garcia hired a man who he had an extended history with, spending 1995-2004 as a part of Davis’ football operations at Miami and with the Browns.

Butch Davis Hired as Head Football Coach at Florida International
Pete Garcia has been at the helm of the athletic department at FIU since 2006.
Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The move paid immediate dividends in 2017 and 2018, as Davis led FIU to its best two-year stretch and a program-record nine wins in ‘18. While 2019 saw FIU finish 6-7, the third-consecutive bowl appearance was a new mark for an FIU program that had been abysmal prior to Davis’ arrival.

However, the last 23 months haven’t been kind to the Panthers. 2020’s 0-5 record saw the team decimated by COVID and injuries. Following a season-opening win over FCS Long Island, FIU has gone 0-7 with five defeats by more than two touchdowns. The low point of the season was Saturday’s 38-0 shutout loss to Marshall in Huntington. FIU wasn’t competitive past the first quarter and The Herd looked to score up until the final whistle, throwing three straight passes with less than 20 seconds left in the contest.

It’s been a trying year for Butch Davis and the Panthers.
Michael Berlfein/FIU Athletics

Davis declined to speak with media following the game, as frustration has reached its peak in what’s been a tough season for his team. Of equal importance is the fact that both Davis and Garcia are in the final year of their contracts. Davis’ deal ends at the conclusion of the season, while Garcia’s ends on July 31, 2022.